Examining how Michael Carter-Williams is setting the league on fire

Examining how Michael Carter-Williams is setting the league on fire

Through his first three pro games, Michael Carter-Williams is averaging 20.7 points on 47% shooting, with about nine assists, five rebounds and four steals. Those numbers aren't just impressive for a little-hyped rookie, they're impressive for absolutely anybody. Carter-Williams' current PER of 29.2 is nearly six whole points higher than that of four-time league MVP LeBron James, who MCW arguably outplayed in his historic NBA debut.

What's more, Michael has done all this for a team that's shocked the NBA world by starting the season 3-0, beating contending teams like the Heat and the Bulls in the process. And MCW has played a central role in all three W's, including hitting the game-sealing free throws against Miami and dishing the game-sealing assist against Chicago. As crazy as it sounds to say, through the first week of the 2012-13 NBA season, Michael Carter-Williams is probably your league MVP. It shouldn't be possible, but it is.

But how? How is he doing this? Well, as for which dark forces are involved that have inspired Carter-Williams to play like this, I can not attest, but I've isolated some of the more specific things MCW has excelled at doing through his first three games that have allowed him to put up such ridiculous numbers. Hopefully nobody from an opposing team will notice or plan for these things, and MCW can keep playing like this forever and ever.

1. Hitting Catch-and-Shoot Threes

The most common knock on MCW out of college was that he can't shoot, but as I've said before, that's not really true--it's not hitting the shots that's the problem so much as knowing when or where to take them. So far in his pro career, MCW has mostly only taken shots off good looks, resulting in him shooting an impressive 8-17 from deep.

He's by far the best when he just releases off a catch-and-shoot, getting his feet set and squaring up, and he's shot 5-10 so far off catch-and-shoot threes. Look at this one he hit early against Miami:

What's impressive about this clip isn't the shot so much as what Carter-Williams does to get it. He sees Thaddeus Young working his way into a double team in the post, and inches his way over to the corner without attracting the attention of the help defender. This helps get him a better shot once Thad notices him and kicks out, not just because the corner three is the shortest in the league, but because the help defender has to scramble a longer way to contest it.

Even when I thought he was going to struggle for most of his rookie season, I encouraged Sixer fans to consider the shots MCW was getting more than whether or not he made them, and Michael working to get himself shots like this is very encouraging.

2. Scoring with Length

Carter-Williams doesn't have a particularly diverse repertoire yet when it comes to getting his own shot, but as a long-armed, 6'6" point guard, he does have a huge natural advantage in most matchups against opposing PGs, including Chicago's Derrick Rose. In this clip, you can see him simply taking it to the hole and scoring over Rose on three separate occasions, who does his best to contest but can't really get high enough to bother the shot.

MCW will eventually have to greatly improve his mid-range game, and develop a floater for when he gets past the first line of defense and has to shoot over big men that he can't simply toss it in over. But he should be able to get an easy bucket or two a game simply by being longer than his over-matched defender.

3. Causing turnovers with length

Scoring isn't the only thing Michael's height and length are good for. His size advantage and quick defensive instincts also contribute to his being a disruptive force on defense. In this clip from the Sixers' opener, LeBron James gets MCW on a mismatch, forcing him to try to front LeBron.

Due to MCW's length, Miami's Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem both struggle to feed LeBron an entry pass for what would be an easy layup or dunk. Eventually, Haslem floats a pass that isn't high enough and is easily picked off by Carter-Williams, who leads the break the other way and finds Turner isolated on the other end against the power forward Haslem, allowing Turner to shake his way to an easy iso score.

A couple games later, he teams with Thaddeus Young to pester Derrick Rose 30 feet from the basket late in the fourth quarter:

In this one, Carter-Williams' length forces Rose to leave his feet to be able to even see where an open teammate might be, and then Rose has to throw the pass so high that it ends up sailing well above its target and out of bounds.

Racking up steals was something Cater-Williams excelled at out of college, leading the Big East with 2.7 a game last year, and his length is obviously a big reason why, so it's good to see that translating so far to the bigger bodies of the pros.

4. Gambling for steals

Length isn't the only asset MCW has when it comes to creating turnovers--he also has excellent instincts for filling passing lanes and gambling for takeaways, like with this pickoff he came up with in the first quarter against the Heat:

Taking a closer look at this one, you can see MCW's eyes focused on Heat guard Roger Mason in the corner, who is telegraphing his upcoming pass to the flashing Udonis Haslem near the basket.

MCW would be taking a big risk by going for the steal here, because if he guesses wrong, he's leaving his own man, Mario Chalmers, wide open at the top of the arc for the basket. Luckily for MCW and the Sixers, his guess is right, and he gets the easy steal to lead the break the other way.

Later in the game, he again finds himself isolated on the wing against LeBron.

This is a bad matchup for the slight-of-frame MCW, and he knows it. So rather than let LeBron get the ball and either back him down for an easy turnaround jumper or drive or spin past him for an easy layup, he decides to curl around LeBron for the last second and attempt to interrupt Bosh's entry pass. Bosh never sees the intercept coming, and Carter-Williams has the ball and is off.

It's through this combination of athleticism and smarts (and a couple lucky breaks on bad Heat passes) that MCW managed to rack up a record nine steals in his debut game against one of the smartest offenses in basketball. Given the transition-heavy offensive attack Coach Brown wants to run with these Sixers, getting live-ball turnovers like these is absolutely paramount, so MCW's defensive disruptiveness is obviously a tremendous asset.

5. Sucking in the D and dishing out to shooters

The most immediately obvious skill about MCW is his ability as a passer, which has led to him racking up an impressive 27 steals (with just seven turnovers) over the Sixers' first three games. One way he gets these numbers up is by penetrating into the opposing defense, attracting the attention of a number of help defenders, and then passing out to an open teammate, usually behind the arc.

Michael does this here against the Heat to get an open look for James Anderson:

Freeze the picture and you can see that there are four pairs of eyes on Carter-Williams as he gets into the teeth of the defense, while Anderson simply sets up at the wing behind the arc and waits:

By the time LeBron snaps back to reality, Carter-Williams has already delivered a clean feed to Anderson behind the line, who simply turns and fires for the most uncontested three he'll get all night.

Michael draws even more attention on this crucial possession later in the game, as he drives down the floor with the Sixers up just one with less than two minutes to go:

This time, you can clearly see how all five Heat defenders converge on MCW as he attacks the basket...

...leaving a wide-open Evan Turner in the right corner, wildly signaling for MCW to send the rock his way, which Carter-Williams does. Evan ends up missing the shot, but it's a high-percentage look that Coach Brown would take ten times out of ten in a late-game situation, and it's basically all due to MCW.

The Sixers don't have a ton of great shooters on their roster, and certainly not many who can get their own looks off the dribble, so having a point guard who can deliver the ball to teammates in the right spots at the right time can help players like James Anderson stay relevant in the NBA, and help the Sixers take advantage of one of the most efficient shots in the game.

6. Passing to big-man shooters out of the pick-and-pop

Coach Brown has long encouraged his big men, particularly Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young, to launch from distance when given the opportunity. Playing with Michael Carter-Williams, Hawes and Young certainly get their share of such opportunities, as evidenced by this seemingly endless stream of drained pick-and-pop jumpers they've hit in just three games of playing with MCW:

Unlike during the Doug Collins days, when the pick-and-pop normally resulted in countless long two attempts--commonly viewed as the least-efficient shot in basketabll--most of the looks here are from three, which both Thad and Spencer have proven they can hit this season, Spence shooting 6-12 from deep so far. Of the team's P&P big men, only Lavoy Allen still seems to favor the long two--likely because that's the high end of his range at the moment--but Lavoy's been hitting, shooting 9-14 from the floor so far this season.

The MCW-run pick-and-pop proved to be such a weapon against the Bulls that Brett Brown called it for the team's last play of the game--seen at the end of the above montage--with Hawes setting the pick up high against Derrick Rose. Unlike earlier in the game, when the Bulls seemed content to let Spence fire away from deep, this time Chicago Joakim Noah lept out at the big man, allowing Spence to pump-fake to get Noah in the air, take a couple steps in and calmly drain the open game-sealing jumper.

Getting our big men open looks from distance, especially if they're hitting, stretches the defense for this team, getting opposing bigs out of position and allowing penetrators like Evan Turner and Tony Wroten room to operate in the half-court. All good things for this offensively limited 76ers team.

7. Passing to rolling bigs out of the double-team trap

The primary reason I expected Michael Carter-Williams to struggle so mightily against the Heat was because they've typically terrorized unexperienced point guards with their tough perimeter defense, particularly by unelashing two-man traps on point guards far away from the basket, leading to turnovers on turnovers and unparalleled mental anguish for the poor opposing floor generals. For a rookie in his first game, it just seemed unfair to ask him to go against a defense like this.

But Michael Carter-Williams was apparently very well prepared for the Heat's trapping ways, as he was able to quickly recognize the traps, and deliver passes over (or in one case, under) the double team to the open, rolling big man:

Consequently, MCW was able to negate the Heat's most potent defensive weapon, cut down on live-ball turnovers the other way, and mos importantly, get his big guys all kinds of good looks towards the basket in the process.

By the way, as you can tell from his presence in so many of these videos, it's not an accident that Spence is putting up the best numbers of his career--19 points, 11 boards, 65% shooting--while playing with MCW for the first time. He's never shown chemistry like this with a Sixers point guard before, and just might continue to put up some serious numbers catching feeds like these from Carter-Williams.

Well, hopefully that all goes to explain some of how MCW has done what he's done through three games of the NBA season--again, minus any potential promises to Satan or flirtations with Fairuza Balk or anything. Can he keep it up tonight against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors? If you're not glued to your TV tonight at 7:00--or there in person at the Wells Fargo Center--to see for yourself, you sir or madam need to get with the damn program.

NFL notes: Jordan Reed, Trevor Siemian ruled out for Week 13

NFL notes: Jordan Reed, Trevor Siemian ruled out for Week 13

ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed will miss Sunday's game at the Arizona Cardinals with a sprained left shoulder.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden announced Friday that Reed would sit out. It'll be the third game missed this season by Reed, who leads the Redskins with 59 catches. He has 630 yards receiving and five TDs.

Reed hurt his shoulder in Washington's Thanksgiving Day loss at Dallas, then was sidelined for practice all week.

Gruden said he hopes that with an extra week of treatment, Reed would be available to play at NFC East rival Philadelphia on Dec. 11.

Also out for Washington (6-4-1) against Arizona (4-6-1) is defensive end Anthony Lanier (lower leg).

Starting offensive linemen Brandon Scherff and Ty Nsekhe, cornerback Bashaud Breeland, defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, running back Chris Thompson and long snapper Nick Sundberg were all listed as questionable for Washington.

Broncos: Trevor Siemian ruled out against Jacksonville
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos ruled out Trevor Siemian for Sunday's game at Jacksonville, meaning rookie Paxton Lynch will make his second start.

Siemian had hoped to return to practice Friday but the training staff put him right back in his walking boot and informed coach Gary Kubiak the second-year pro was a no-go against the Jaguars (2-9).

Lynch lost to Atlanta in Week 5.

The Broncos (7-4) are scrambling for a playoff spot after their loss to Kansas City in which Siemian threw for a career-best 368 yards with three TDs and no interceptions but was sacked six times.

The Broncos also promoted speedy punt returner Kalif Raymond from the practice squad with rookie fullback Andy Janovich going on injured reserve following ankle surgery.

Bills: Sammy Watkins expected to play against Oakland
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills receiver Sammy Watkins is expected to play in his second consecutive game though questions persist about the severity of his left foot injury.

On Thursday, Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said Watkins still has a broken bone in his left foot. Watkins returned from injured reserve last week after missing two months of action.

Watkins spoke with reporters Friday but was vague when pressed about Lynn's comments. Asked if he still has a broken bone in his foot, Watkins responded: "Not necessarily. You hear a lot of things."

Buffalo's top receiver had surgery in April to repair a stress fracture in the injured foot. It was aggravated in Week 3 when a teammate stepped on Watkins' foot at a walk-through.

Watkins returned against Jacksonville on Sunday and provided a major spark to the league's worst passing attack, catching three passes for 80 yards. He missed Wednesday's practice due to foot soreness but participated on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday.

"Playing the game, you come out a little bit sore being out for eight weeks," Watkins said. "So we expected that, I expected that myself. I'm fine. I got through the game last week, I felt pretty good, didn't have any hiccups, and really just keep doing the things in the training room."

Watkins said the soreness did not come until after the game against the Jaguars, not during. He's expected to again be on a snap count this Sunday at Oakland.

Watkins was also asked about the possibility of a second surgery, along with his status for the rest of the season.

"Right now I'm really just focusing on the Raiders," Watkins said. "After the season, if I need to get that done then we will, and if I don't we'll be fine."

The Bills are depending on Watkins to contribute due to reduced personnel at wide receiver. Robert Woods (knee) and Percy Harvin (illness) are out. Marquise Goodwin is expected to play after suffering a wrist injury in practice Thursday.

Starting cornerback Ronald Darby (concussion) is out. Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus is expected to play after leaving Sunday's win over Jacksonville with an abdominal strain.

Dismissal deal done in Johnny Manziel's domestic case
DALLAS -- Prosecutors say they have an agreement with Johnny Manziel to dismiss a domestic violence charge against the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback.

The Dallas County District Attorney's Office said Friday that Manziel will have to meet certain conditions for a year before the misdemeanor charge will be dismissed. The former Cleveland Browns player was accused of hitting and threatening former girlfriend Colleen Crowley during a night out in January.

Brittany Dunn, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors, said the agreement was filed Friday without Manziel present.

Details of the agreement weren't immediately available. A spokeswoman for the former Texas A&M star didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.

Judge Roberto Canas said at a hearing last month that the sides had reached a tentative deal on a conditional dismissal (see full story).

Jaguars: Ivory, Hurns ruled out; Thomas doubtful vs. Denver
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars will be without two offensive starters Sunday against Denver and maybe a third.

Coach Gus Bradley ruled out running back Chris Ivory (hamstring) and receiver Allen Hurns (hamstring) on Friday. He also listed tight end Julius Thomas (back) as doubtful to play against the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos (7-4).

Receiver Rashad Greene (Achilles tendon) and defensive end Jared Odrick (shoulder) also are out, leaving the Jaguars (2-9) with four healthy receivers heading into the game. Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee will start, with Arrelious Benn and Bryan Walters serving as backups.

Without Ivory, T.J. Yeldon is expected to handle the bulk of the carries. But Yeldon (ankle) was limited in last week's game and again in practice this week.

Phillies DFA OF Cody Asche, claim LHP David Rollins off waivers

Phillies DFA OF Cody Asche, claim LHP David Rollins off waivers

Cody Asche's time with the Phillies has come to an end.

The Phillies claimed LHP David Rollins off waivers from the Texas Rangers on Friday. To make room on the 40-man roster, Asche was designated for assignment. The Phillies had until 8 p.m. on Friday to tender a contract to the outfielder, but they instead chose to free up the roster spot for Rollins.

Asche played four seasons with the Phillies from 2013-16 after he was drafted in the fourth round in 2011. The St. Charles, Mo. native had a .213/.284/.350 batting line this past season over 71 games. His best season with the Phillies came as their starting third baseman in 2014, hitting 10 home runs and driving home 46 runs in 121 games.

Rollins has been on four different rosters this offseason. He pitched 31 games in relief for the Seattle Mariners over the last two seasons, sporting a 7.60 ERA over 34 1/3 innings. He was claimed off waivers by the Chicago Cubs 15 days after the World Series and then subsequently claimed again by the Rangers. 

Rollins was a 24th round draft pick by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2011 MLB Draft and was traded a year later to the Houston Astros. Prior to the 2015 season, the Mariners picked Rollins in the Rule 5 draft after the Astros chose not to protect him.